Secret Meaning Behind Tattoos Of Captured Yakuza Boss

by : Julia Banim on : 15 Jan 2018 21:04
Viral Press

Yakuza boss, Shigeharu Shirai, spent 14 years on the run from the law, however, he was finally caught out due to his very distinctive ink.

The 74-year-old Japanese gang leader was arrested while shopping in Lopburi, a city north of Bangkok, Thailand – he’s suspected of shooting Kashihiko Otobe – the deputy leader of a rival gang.

Shirai ran from Japanese authorities back in 2003 and had been hiding out in Thailand – he’d married a Thai woman and had apparently been living peacefully.


Little did he know the strange way his dark past would eventually catch up with him…

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His whereabouts were discovered after a local person unwittingly shared a photograph of the elderly criminal, having admired his interesting full body tattoos.

The impressed Thai man shared photos of Shirai playing checkers on Facebook, having no clue as to his chilling identity.


The caption on the photographs innocently read:

Uncle, you’re my idol. When I grow up, will I look like you?

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The images quickly went viral, with the original post being shared over 10,000 times.


There were other identifying factors in the image, including how the little finger on Shirai’s left hand was missing.

Members of the Yakuza are known to cut off part of their finger after committing an offence or breaking gangland code.

People began to recognise Shirai, including the Japanese police and his borrowed time as a free man was up.


Following his arrest, Shirai confessed to having been a gang leader, however he’s denied murdering Otobe.

He has instead suggested Otobe’s death could’ve been down to plots within Yakuza sub-groups.

Shirai was arrested for entering Thailand illegally, having had no official passport or visa and was returned to Japan, concluding the high profile manhunt.


Fascination with Shirai’s striking tattoos persists and the meaning behind each one is intriguing; wrapped up with Japanese culture and history.

This form of tattooing is known as Irezumi, which was developed during the Edo period – 1603-1868.

Tattoos were used as a form of punishment during these years and yet those practising Irezumi fought against this, reimagining tattoo art as being symbolic of rebel courage and masculinity.

Irezumi designs typically include mythological, sometimes fierce, imagery; dragons and other such fantastical and ferocious beasts.

There is also – perhaps surprisingly – quite a lot of flower designs.

Even today, there’s still a stigma against Irezumi, due to its strong connotations with the Yakuza.

One of Shirai’s back tattoos depicts a samurai – a popular choice for gang members and according to Ranker, represents the Bushidō code, with an emphasis on ‘honour, courage, loyalty, and proper action’.

Bushidō means ‘the way of the warrior’, a philosophy the Yakuza have drawn when shaping their own identity.

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Another one of his back tattoos is a water design, symbolising ‘change, adaptation, and life’.

The sea is often used in various forms of Japanese art as a way of representing nature’s mighty power.

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A yellow flower circles Shirai’s right nipple, which could be a lotus, chrysanthemum or peony.

A lotus represents unfulfilled potential, whereas a chrysanthemum has connotations of joy and longevity.

The peony is said to symbolise wealth and prosperity.

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Like many Yakuza members, this isn’t Shirai’s only floral tattoo and this second one really is intriguing.

This flower remains uncoloured and so represents an ongoing story behind the tattoo.

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Despite Shirai’s days as a gang leader now behind him, his story still continues.

I for one can’t help but wonder what it was he’s left unfinished…

Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: News


  1. Ranker

    16 Beautiful Yakuza Tattoos and Their Symbolic Meaning